Dell's 'Love Letter' to Linux: Now You See It, Now You Don't?
Dell gave Ubuntu Linux a wet, sloppy kiss on its Web site recently, asserting that the distro is just plain safer than Microsoft Windows. It was item No. 6 on Dell's list of things people should know about Ubuntu, and Linux lovers were pleasantly surprised by the candor. Within days, though, the mention of Windows had been removed. "To be honest, I'm surprised that Dell had that up as long as they did," said one blogger.
06/28/10 5:00 AM PT
Well, it's been an emotional rollercoaster ride here in the Linux blogosphere in recent days, thanks to Dell's proclamation -- and then apparent retraction -- of its love for Linux.
"Ubuntu is safer than Microsoft Windows" read item No. 6 on Dell's "Top 10 list of things you should know about Ubuntu" as recently the middle of this month. "The vast majority of viruses and spyware written by hackers are not designed to target and attack Linux," it added.
"Hoorah!" one might say. "At long last!"
Dell's uplifting words of endearment caused considerable joy and jubilation among Linux aficionados far and wide, including The VAR Guy, Network World and the rowdy crowd over at Digg, among many others.
Too bad it didn't last.
'Ubuntu Is Secure'
Sometime between the June 16 and 21, apparently, Dell thought better of its little public display of affection and carefully reworded that particular item.
The new wording: "Ubuntu is secure," item No. 6 now reads. "According to industry reports, Ubuntu is unaffected by the vast majority of viruses and spyware."
Bloggers everywhere could be heard expressing sentiments to that effect when the news broke, and Linux Girl was no exception.
"Boo!" was the word choice of Computerworld's Steven Vaughan Nichols, for example.
Redmond at Work?
"Comical" was Foogazi blogger Adam Kane's reaction.
Many others, not surprisingly, were unsuitable for publication.
It wasn't long, however, before all eyes -- and suspicions -- turned to Redmond.
To wit: "Did Microsoft Make Dell Take Back Love Letter to Linux?" was the question asked by The Consumerist, and that thought was echoed on countless other forums.
Linux Girl hastily picked herself up off the floor down at the blogosphere's seedy Broken Windows Lounge, where she had fallen off her bar stool upon hearing the news. Before long, a riot threatened to break out.
'I Doubt We'll Ever Know'
"I definitely think Dell's statement was retracted to protect their partnership with Microsoft," Foogazi's Kane opined.
"What I don't know, and would love to find out, is if Dell changed their tune due to pressure directly from Microsoft, or if one of the bigwigs at Dell noticed that it probably wasn't a good idea to make such a bold, albeit true, statement," he said.
"I doubt we'll ever know, though," Kane added.
'An Extraordinarily Bad Idea'
"To be honest, I'm surprised that Dell had that up as long as they did," Slashdot blogger Mhall119 told Linux Girl. "It's not that Microsoft would take objection to their saying nice things about Linux -- Dell is still saying nice things about Linux, after all -- it's that they were undermining the promotion of a competing product that they also sell."
The original wording, in fact, "was an extraordinarily bad idea from a business perspective, and somebody at Dell dropped the copy-editing ball by allowing it to be posted," he asserted.
'Dell Couldn't Survive Without Windows'
"Imagine if Wal-Mart ran an ad campaign for a sale on Pepsi products that listed one of the advantages as 'Pepsi tastes better than Coca-Cola!'" he pointed out. "I'm sure Coca-Cola would be pretty upset too."
In short, "as a business, you don't ever bad-mouth or undermine your suppliers or their products," Mhall119 concluded. "Especially when that supplier and those products are essential to the existence of your business.
"Wal-Mart could survive losing the right to sell Coke, but Dell couldn't survive without selling Windows," he asserted.
'There's a Certain Amount of Fear'
"My mid-level source inside Dell's sales division -- high up in a part of it that handles a form of Linux -- says that Microsoft gives them so much money that selling machines with Ubuntu isn't really worth the hassle," Slashdot blogger Daengbo offered. "He also says there's a certain amount of fear of 'upsetting the apple cart' and 'waking the sleeping giant.'"
Indeed, "M$ has sworn all its partners never to compare anything to their OS just as they forbid benchmarks in their EULA," blogger Robert Pogson agreed. "Thus, the page had to omit reference to that other OS.
"I think Dell should drop all references to that other OS, starting where they recommend it," Pogson added.
'Not Sure Why This Is a Big Deal'
On the other hand, "I'm really not sure why this is a big deal," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl. "Secure is such a nebulous word these days, and Microsoft could probably find some way their OS is more secure."
For Dell, "changing the statement means not having to face a lawsuit or price hike from Microsoft," Mack added.
"There is also the simple fact that if they advertise something as 'secure,' people will turn their brains off when using it and just assume they can run anything they download without obvious malware consequences," he added. "It may be much harder to write a Linux virus, but writing malware is still only as hard as getting someone to install it."
'It Was FUD'
To Slashdot blogger hairyfeet, Dell's original proclamation "wasn't a love letter, it was FUD," he told Linux Girl.
Ubuntu may be safer, "but you have to have a CS degree to run it," he explained. "If I lock a Windows box in concrete and bury it, the box will be pretty safe too, but not very usable. Same here."
Not everyone agreed, however.
"Linux is easier to secure and easier to use securely," Slashdot blogger David Masover asserted. "It's also cheaper to secure -- no antivirus, and upgrades are free forever, while Microsoft does eventually phase out support for old OSes.
"As long as Dell isn't saying something like, 'Windows is more secure than Linux' or 'Linux is not secure,' and as long as they're actually providing models they certify for Ubuntu, I'll definitely check dell.com/ubuntu before purchasing a computer," Masover added.
The Truth, on Video
Slashdot blogger Barbara Hudson, who goes by "Tom" on the site, took a similarly optimistic view.
In fact, she noted that in the embedded "Linux 101" video on Dell's Ubuntu page, at around the two-minute mark, Dell actually continues to assert Ubuntu's superior safety.
"There's a lot of reasons consumers like Linux," the video asserts. "No. 1: it's a powerful operating system. It can do lots of things very fast.
"It's extremely stable," the speaker adds. "It's very rare for the system to lock up or freeze -- there's no Blue Screens."
'Targeted to Attack Microsoft Windows'
Even more to the point: "It's safe and secure. Over 95 percent of viruses, spyware and other types of malware are designed and targeted to attack Microsoft Windows," the video asserts. "So, by definition, if you're not running Microsoft Windows and if you're running Linux, you just don't have to worry about malware and viruses and spyware."
Those are hardly the words of "a 'Dear John' breakup letter from Dell," Hudson pointed out. "Maybe someone decided to tweak the text on the Web page a bit so that the video doesn't sound like it's just regurgitating the ad copy, or vice versa?"
That may or may not be the story behind the change, but if nothing else, the fact that the video is still up should come as at least some comfort to friends of FOSS, Linux Girl would suggest. Dell's heart may no longer be right out there on its proverbial sleeve, but its love for Linux does appear to continue to burn bright.